Reform hastens slowly

Election in Iran marks shift but not a move to a liberal democracy

 

Despite Iran’s hardline, candidate-vetting Guardian Council disqualifying thousands of the reformists who wanted to run, curbing street protests and detaining and intimidating activists, last Friday’s elections were a substantial victory for reformists and supporters of modernising President Hassan Rouhani.

They saw a landslide in Tehran where moderates took all 30 seats in parliament and strong results for them in other areas – reformist and moderate forces could secure a majority in the 290-seat Majlis or parliament.

And in the 88-strong Assembly of Experts, the key clerical council that will choose the successor to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the two most radical members lost their place. Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic and centrist former president, came in first in Tehran’s assembly constituency where 15 of 16 seats went to moderates. Rafsanjani has been a strong advocate of closer economic ties with the West, once suggesting it was time to end the chant “Death to America” during Friday Prayer.

The vote was seen largely as a referendum on the nuclear deal with the west which has allowed the beginning of the lifting of sanctions and a start to Iran’s reintergation into the broader international community. And virtually every prominent opponent of the deal was defeated.

But Iran is not turning into a liberal democracy. Progress is and will remain slow. It remains a resolutely Islamic state. Most of those who were returned to the Majlis with sympathies for change are by and large cautious reformers – they prefer to be known as pragmatists, centrists and moderates.

Although most Iranians understand the constraints on Rouhani, he has also faced criticism in Tehran from young people and the country’s burgeoning middle class for not going far enough with change.

Many of those who would do so, however, remain in jail or excluded from politics. In recent times there have been record numbers of executions. Power in the Islamic Republic remains firmly in the hands of the supreme leader.

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